Catch Me if You Can

Two people took part in the shotgun murder of Michael Hierro. Prosecutors got one.

There is one simple reason why a jury was able to convict Clint Shelton of murdering Michael Hierro and wounding his wife, Marisa, with a shotgun in the driveway of their Rowlett home on December 20, 1999. The reason is, Rowlett police officer J.B. Rutherford had to take a pee.

Rutherford was among the battalion of officers who secured the bloody murder scene outside the Hierro home, which is in a subdivision that was still under construction at the time and, thus, dotted with blue "port-a-potties" leased by construction crews.

When nature called that night, Rutherford headed for the port-a-potty on the lot behind the Hierros' house. When Rutherford opened the door, he struck a cop's equivalent of gold: There, floating in a pool of blue-tinted water, were a pair of white latex gloves and a pair of nylon pantyhose. The hose had been converted into a mask and, more important, contained several hairs that DNA testing would later prove to be Shelton's.

The jury's verdict left no doubt: Clint Shelton murdered Michael Hierro and wounded his wife, Marisa, in a shotgun attack last December. But was Clint's wife, Dallas attorney Catherine Shelton, with him?
The jury's verdict left no doubt: Clint Shelton murdered Michael Hierro and wounded his wife, Marisa, in a shotgun attack last December. But was Clint's wife, Dallas attorney Catherine Shelton, with him?

Despite 138 pieces of evidence and the appearance of three dozen witnesses during seven days of testimony, the mask alone was the indisputable physical evidence that put Shelton at the scene of the crime. When the jurors filed into Dallas County District Court Judge John Nelms' courtroom on Wednesday, November 15, their eyes cast uniformly down, their verdict was loud and clear: Clint Shelton was guilty of first-degree murder and, in the shooting of Marisa Hierro, guilty of second-degree aggravated assault. The next day, they sentenced him to life in prison.

The verdict should have marked the end of a case that has rocked the Dallas legal community. But to many, including its surviving victim, Marisa Hierro, the verdict only added fuel to a burning question that police and prosecutors have not answered: Will they ever arrest Dallas attorney Catherine Shelton, Clint's estranged wife and Marisa's avowed enemy, whose alleged participation in the murder was a central part of the prosecutor's case against Clint?

"I will have no rest until they arrest Catherine, because she was there that night," Marisa Hierro says. "No rest."

In reaching its verdict, the jury bought the prosecution's theory that Clint and Catherine committed the murder together. As part of the theory, which centers on Marisa's "ear witness" testimony, lead prosecutor Toby Shook argued that Catherine Shelton decided to kill Marisa after she left her law practice in March 1999, taking with her a lucrative, if unethical, business that took advantage of illegal immigrants. While the trial erased all doubt about Clint's role as the shooter, it revealed a major hole in the police investigation: The police have no physical evidence linking Catherine to the case.

Through her attorney, Randy Taylor, Catherine maintains her innocence, pointing to phone records that she says prove she was on the telephone with her late mother at the time of the attack. Catherine's mother, who testified before a Dallas County grand jury before she died, did in fact telephone the Shelton home that night. Still, the records leave open the possibility that someone besides Catherine answered the phone or that the call was forwarded to a cell phone.

Taylor says he doesn't believe that Clint's conviction will have any impact on Catherine when and if she is ever brought to trial. In the meantime, he says, there is only one course of action he can take on behalf of his notorious client.

"I'm gonna hunker down like I'm in a foxhole with a 30 caliber machine gun, and I'm gonna wait," Taylor says. "If the enemy comes, we're gonna have a war."

From the first day of the trial, it is clear that Catherine Shelton is its star attraction, the woman whom Houston police named the "black widow" because she once shot an ex-boyfriend and is still a suspect in the unsolved murder of a second lover ("One Crazy Lawyer," January 13).

To prevent the trial from turning into a media circus, Judge Nelms banned all cameras and recording devices from his seventh-floor courtroom. He even took the rare step of taping paper over the courtroom doors. The move helped ward off camera crews, including one from Court TV, but it didn't stop some courthouse regulars from watching. As far as they were concerned, this wasn't Clint's trial; it was Catherine's.

"I want Catherine to go down," says J.W. Nelson, a retired bailiff who occupied a seat in the back of the courtroom when opening arguments began at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 7. Nelson says he was drawn to the trial because he can't forget a run-in he once had with Catherine outside a courtroom. Nelson had been under strict orders not to let anyone in or out of that court, and when he refused to let Catherine back in, he says, she became mad.

"She said, 'I'll scratch your eyes out,'" Nelson recalls. "She should have been arrested a long time ago."

The fact that Catherine has not been arrested generates gossip, perhaps even hope, that she will show up for the trial and heighten the much-anticipated drama. By lunchtime, courtroom bailiff Bobby Moorehead, famous here for his cartoon ties and skull-and-crossbones belt buckle, confirms rumors that Catherine was in the building--she had made an appearance on behalf of a client down on the sixth floor this morning.

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